Tokyo is the world’s largest megalopolis, arguably the cleanest and safest too. But what fascinates me is the intricate way 34 million people survive in the density and sometimes crush of humanity. On the surface there may be a homogenous veneer to the inhabitants, but as I learned when living in Japan, Tokyo-ites have an intense, often fierce individuality. Getting to know a few of them well, they revealed their inner selves to me, which sparked a realization of a deeper individuality in myself.

One need look no further than Britain’s impending departure from the European Union for an example of how once apparently dormant elements of a nation’s self-image can be reawakened. An abiding historical sense of aloofness and suspicion of Europe, which seemed to have been quelled by the forces of globalisation in recent decades, has emerged in the last year with renewed vigour. Evident also in the appeal of Trump to persistent American notions of exceptionalism, the flattening of specific cultural characteristics engendered by globalisation seems not to have greatly shifted the fundamentals of how these countries view both themselves and the outside world.

North Korea is changing. Pyongyang is a dynamic city where the last decade has seen the skyline transformed at the behest of Kim Jong Un with lines of new tower blocks and colour painted across his father and grandfather’s monochrome urban landscape. The city’s ambience and the lives of those with money has been transformed with funfairs, and water parks, shopping centres, coffee bars, beer festivals and package holidays. Science is king with new museums and centers devoted to natural history, technology and weaponry. Outside in the countryside change comes slowly, while in the Northeast “rust belt” industrial revival is even slower. They are the source of the economic migrants fleeing for a better life in the South.

Two interesting phenomena intersected at the turn on the last century. Just as Indian women were becoming globally visible as winners of several international beauty pageants, the racialized body (non-white, brown, along with Arab) became visible as the Other in the aftermath of 9/11. This stark polarity marks the subject of a new book on South Asian diaspora community that studies how appearances make and unmake attitudes about beauty and what sort of people become public icons.